March 29, 2017

How RTC:Rural works to address the “Civic Desert” for rural youth

Here at RTC:Rural, we know from working with our stakeholders that there are many unique aspects of living in a rural environment – both challenges and opportunities. Our Center provides technical assistance to people with disabilities and their service providers to address these challenges.

A recent article in The Conversation’s series on rural America, by researchers at Tufts University, recently coined a new term: the “Civic Desert.” They use Civic Desert to refer to “places characterized by a dearth of opportunities for civic and political learning and engagement, and without institutions that typically provide opportunities like youth programming, culture and arts organizations and religious congregations.” Click here to read their analysis of the effects of such a lack of access to civic opportunities on youth voting, titled “Study: 60 percent of rural millennials lack access to a political life.”

The challenge of access to civic opportunity for rural youth with disabilities is an issue that crosses boundaries of political parties and values. RTC:Rural and our partners  are currently working to address this issue in several ways.

Youth put their arms around each other as part of a group activity

Youth activity at APRIL 2016 conference

APRIL Youth Advocacy Committee – We provide technical assistance to the new Youth Advocacy Committee of the Associate of Programs for Rural Independent Living (APRIL). This committee, an outgrowth of the vibrant youth activities at the annual APRIL conference, brings together rural youth from across the country to prioritize and address issues associated with living with a disability in rural America. The committee has regular meetings – for more information contact APRIL Youth Programs Coordinator Sierra Royster.


People with a variety of disabilities participate in a group activity

Improv activity at Summit Independent Living’s BASE youth space, February 2017

Advocacy Toolkit – We are working with staff at Summit Independent Living in Missoula, MT, and their affiliated youth community center B.A.S.E., to create a new, interactive advocacy skills toolkit. This new resource includes how to convey key learning points about effective advocacy in a fun, improvisational learning environment. This resource will be available later this year, and is designed to serve the needs of rural Independent Living Centers across the country.

Disability Counts Data Finder – In order to address the lack of accessible data on disability in rural areas, we have created “Disability Counts,” a simple online tool that allows users to view and download data on every county in the US. This tool provides an essential companion resource for youth and others interested in engaging in effective, fact-based self-advocacy.